Divorce is a difficult process that can cause emotional stress in either spouse. It can be difficult to consider working with your ex-spouse to continue to raise your children when you are still recovering from the emotional aspect of your split. Studies have shown, though, that children benefit immensely from having parents actively in their lives, even if their parents are not together. In fact, it can even help them exceed in certain aspects, like problem solving, communication, and stress management, better than children from non-divorced parents. Your children will learn from you how to handle stressful and emotional situations and how you react and work with your ex-spouse can affect them later in life.
To help you manage your stress and emotions so that you can be a better role model for your child, here are 10 tips to help you co-parent more successfully.
- Keep your child’s needs in the forefront of your mind. Most divorcing parents will say that this is the hardest thing to remember and sometimes, the hardest thing to do. Letting go of your anger, resentment, or hurt will take time, but until then, your feelings will need to be secondary to your child’s. If your ex-spouse was not abusive, then they will likely still be a good parent. People can still be good parents even if they didn’t make a good spouse.
- Find a way for your to effectively communicate with your ex-spouse. Because you share a child with this person, you will be still be seeing them for many more years to come. Birthday parties, school events, graduation, marriage, and grandchildren. You are tied to this person for life so you will need to find a way to discuss important factors regarding your children. Communication does not have to be face to face conversations; it can be through text messages, emails, or other online messages. It is perfectly ok to keep your communication formal, brief, and to the point – just be sure to remember to be cordial. As time passes, you can reevaluate your avenue of communication to see if changes need to be made.
- See the divorce through your child’s eyes. If you think divorce is difficult for you, imagine how your child must be feeling as everything they know is changing drastically. Before you say or do anything, think about how your child will perceive it. If the other parent was late again for pick up and you are thinking about calling your spouse about the issue (and know a likely argument will occur), stop and think about if your child were to overhear the conversation.
- If you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all. Keep your feelings about your ex-spouse to yourself. Do not speak ill of them to a friend or family member where your child could overhear the conversation. If you need to discuss your feelings about your spouse seek the counsel of a therapist or wait until your children are gone and invite a friend or family member over to talk. Your child has the right to love their other parent and hearing bad things about them can be detrimental to their mental health. As your child grows and nears adulthood, they will gain a realistic impression of both you and their other parent. So, if you are truly stuck coparenting with a bad person, one day your child will see it for themselves.
- Don’t cringe when your child mentions their other parent. When your child is with you, they may bring up something they did at their other parent’s house or something their other parent has done for them. Do not shy away from the conversation, allow your child to express their feelings about their other parent. This will make them feel secure and comfortable about talking to you about things in their life, even the difficult things.
- Agree on the “big stuff”. Coparenting will mean that you both agree on how to raise your child so that the treatment is consistent between homes. Rules about behavior, discipline, grades, homework, chores, hygiene, playtime, screen/tv time, and bedtimes should be the same for each household. Children do need structure and guidelines and these should be the same across each household. Matching rules will help reduce behavioral issues of acting out at one house but not the other. If a child is grounded at one home, they should be grounded in the other. Being the “cool parent” will only undermine your spouse’s authority on child rearing and can cause issues later in your child’s life.
- The time sharing schedule is not flexible. Do not try to swap days or make changes that are unnecessary. The time sharing schedule will help to keep you and your children organized. It will also help the child feel secure in that they will see their other parent again. Only when a modification is truly necessary, should a change be made. Guidelines should be in effect on how to deal with these emergency situations.
- Remember to take care of yourself, too. Going through a divorce can present a challenging time in your life. Do something that will help you stay positive throughout the day or to help give yourself a little pick me up during rougher times. It can be anything from getting some fresh air or change of scenery, having a positive self-talk with yourself, getting a massage, or trying a new hobby. If it helps to relieve some of your stress, what do you have to lose?
- Plan for the day when your family becomes blended. One day, once the divorce has long passed you or your ex-spouse may find someone who you would like to have join the family. Initially a new partner should be limited in their involvement in child rearing decisions and should not be the ones to communicate on your behalf to your ex-spouse. When a new partner’s position in your family is more secure, then you and your ex-spouse should discuss how much the new partner should contribute to decision making involving your children.
- Forgive. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, or even three years from now; but one day you should find it in yourself to forgive. Forgive yourself, forgive your ex-spouse. Whatever that it was that contributed to the end of your marriage should not hold you back from letting go of the past.